When you move to a foreign country, the journey is a roller coaster. The culture and customs are different, and sometimes you feel out of place. But other times, you find yourself saying.. “now why don’t we do that?!” One of my favorite quotes about living abroad is, “…remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable; It is designed to make its own people comfortable (Clifton Fadiman)”.
Here I will outline the top 10 ways Spain is completely getting it right, as long as 5 ways, in my opinion, they are not.
DISCLAIMER: This is based completely on opinion. If you don’t agree.. just let it go.
10. WINE IS CHEAPER THAN WATER
Yes, you heard that right. The wine. is cheaper. than the water. Now this can be viewed as a good or bad thing, but I like the glass half-full version. Need I say more?
EXPERT TIP: if you really want water at a restaurant and not pay for it, ask for “un vaso de agua”. They will give you a mini glass of water. Everything else you order will be out of a bottle, and you will be charged.
One of the most famous, well-known traditions in Spain is their tapas. If you know me at all, you know two things: That I love food, and that I can eat. A LOT. I eat until I’m full, and then I eat some more. Then I eat because it is still in front of me. And then once I’m so stuffed I can’t move, I eat more because it just looks so good, and why waste it. Then you give me a glass of wine, I’m going to eating more.
The other problem is that I have food A.D.D.. I like to try a little bit of everything. This is why Tapas bars are my favorite. They serve many different types of little appetizers for extremely reasonable prices. It can be anything from beautiful mini gourmet dishes of seafood or meat to anything on french bread, olives or even potato chips (at the cheap-o places). My favorite Tapa so far you ask? Croquetas.
Many have a clear counter area, (kind of like at a sushi bar) where you can choose a tapa on sight. Most times when you order a drink, they give you a tapa to go with it. Sounds right up my alley, right? IT IS. If you like to experiment and try different foods, this is right up your alley too, and is exactly why I invite you to come meet me for a drink and tapa in Spain!
My favorite tapas bar: EL TIGRE! 5 or 6 euros for a GINORMOUS drink and several GIANT plates of tapas! Can you tell I’m a broke college grad?
After hitting the Tapas bars and getting quite full and slightly inebriated, the Spaniards have learned to do one thing extremely right- they can PARTY. Coming from Louisiana I thought we did it big by going home at 2am in Baton Rouge, or in New Orleans until 4 am or so. Here, that’s laughable. Try sunrise. When the bars close around 2 am, the party is far from over. Everyone then heads over to some of the biggest clubs I could ever imagine, and dances the night away until the metro opens back up at 6am, and sometimes longer. In Louisiana, we do not have clubs. We have bars that turn into places to go dancing, or could just be a place to have a drink depending on the night.
In Madrid, there is no mistaking these several story monsters. I have only been to one since I’ve been here, and that was to El Kapital. I thought I was in a movie, as I watch people beg for their place on “the list” to men in suits and headpieces, and watch guy after guy get turned away. Once inside, I started to realize the magnitude of what I got myself into. This club was not one, not two, not three, not four, five, or six stories, but SEVEN STORIES with something different going on, from karaoke to kissing, or different music playing on each floor, with an outside corridor to watch the main bottom floor club area.
At the end of a long night, many people go with their friends to get breakfast before getting back on the metro to go home. Now believe me when I say Spain knows how to party?
Now after all of that partying.. how do they live?? How do people get through the day?
A nap you say? THAT’S EXACTLY RIGHT!! Siesta time is the time in the early afternoon after their typically late lunch where shops, museums, cafes, and more shut down during the middle of the day. Most schools have extended lunch periods, sometimes being as long as 2 hours. At my school, it is an hour and a half. and Yes, I do take a nap. Some schools let their kids even go home for lunch… imagine that in America.. That would never happen! But lunch is their biggest meal of the day, so it only seems fair everyone eats it together. And of course takes a nice nap afterwords.
6. VACATION TIME
Okay this is something I feel strongly about. One thing that Spain has right is the amount of vacation time they get yearly! Every year, August is the month of vacations. Some towns nearly shutdown during this time as everyone flees to entire Spanish coastline. This was most evident to me when anyone I contacted in Spain this summer did not get back to me until September (when I arrived in Spain) because they were on vacation. Can you imagine having 3-4 weeks off every year from the day you start working, not including Christmas or other holidays? Pretty amazing concept, right? Studies have directly correlated with more vacation time equalling less depression. This is my theory as to why (sorry for the morbidity) the suicide rate in Spain is half of that in the US.
5. SUNDAY FUNDAYS
Keeping on the theme of vacation time, I think no matter how long I’m here, Sunday will always feel like I’m on vacation. Why you ask? Because Sunday’s in Madrid seems like it’s one big celebration. For what? I’m still not sure. But I’ll tell you one thing, they’re doing it right.
Let’s start with the El Rastro Market. This is a GIGANTIC open-air flea market right in the city center (accessible by metro La Latina or Sol). I LOVE garage sale hunting and flea markets (Thank you Dad for getting me into this!!) I’ve never seen anything like this market though! You can buy anything there from Jewelry, to clothes and accessories, to kitchen supplies or house decoration or knick knacks. It gets crowded late though, so get going early!
Secondly, Sundays is the day of the week where all of Madrid seems to be out and about sitting on the terrace of a cafe or bar, and just enjoying their Sunday catching up with friends. Walk around the city center on a Sunday, and you will never be bored! Last Sunday after hitting El Rastro, we found a bar owned by a British guy called El Rastro (go figure) and sat down and enjoyed a nice bloody mary. The place has books you can sit down and read, or movies you can buy for a couple euro. While sitting down, some African men came dancing down the street with drums and other instruments. All I could figure was this was some sort of origination of a Second Line! I’m telling you, surround yourself with good company, you can never be bored on a Sunday here.
Also I have not been yet, but apparently Carmencita’s Bar has 1 euro mimosas and brunch on Sundays, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about it!
4. WELL-BEHAVED DOGS
Okay this is a little off topic, but I have to mention it. I don’t know WHAT they do, but there is no where in the world I have seen dogs behave like they do here in Madrid.. I constantly see dogs waiting outside of a store WITHOUT A LEASH simply waiting for their owner. They act like the outside world doesn’t exist as the owner goes in to grab a few groceries, or whatever it is they need to grab. If there is a Madrileño dog training course, sign me and Zoe up… I can barely get her to sit with a treat in my hand, let alone ignore other dogs, humans, squirrels etc.
3. LESS WASTE
Yes, it is very true the whole world wastes less than the US. This is one thing that is completely eye-opening when you travel. One thing that truly astounds me and directly puts an impact on me is going into a grocery store. When you check out, you are asked if you want A bag. As in 1. Not 25, individual plastic bags. And guess what? If you do get a bag, you are charged a euro or a little less for ONE! You are not asked if you want more. Most people just bring their own grocery shopping bag. Can you imagine what that would do to American consumerism?
One time in the US (the name of the store is escaping me) I was handed a bag when i checked out that said, “Plastic bags: 15 minutes in your hand, 100 years in the ground”. Just think about that for a second. PS, our kitchen trashcan is the size of a mop bucket.
2. Relax… IT’S SPAIN!
I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been thrown this phrase the past 6 months and for the month I’ve been here. But in honesty, it’s TRUE! Nothing is going to be done on your watch or in your way, but it will get done eventually. I lived in my apartment a full 3 weeks before touching a contract. And people are shocked when I tell them I HAVE a contract! Late rent fees? HA! That’s funny. Don’t exist. You don’t pay after being asked a few times, you’ll probably find your stuff on the ground outside of your apartment.
Imagine a world where political correctness, small claims court, and suing doesn’t exist.. at least not in the day to day world. Instead of running to the police, media or to court like so many people seem to frequent in the states, Spaniards handle things themselves. Everything is based on word and trust first, and paperwork second. And guess what? Life isn’t falling apart! (*At least when they are not in a recession.. which is officially “over” by the way!)
1. PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Public Transportation is seriously the greatest thing since.. ever. Not only does Spain (as well as the rest of Western Europe) have great metro systems in its major cities, but they also have a GREAT train system and bus systems as well. Oh, and budget airlines, just to add on top of that. I can literally travel from one coast of the country to another on the cheap. A car is merely an extra convenience here, not a necessity. No need to worry about car upkeep, gas prices (directly, anyways..), or even concentrating on the road on the way to work. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind an hour commute.. I can read a book or the newspaper while someone else delivers me there!
Drawbacks- you are on someone else’s schedule. Also fyi, the metro closes at 1:30am until 6am.
The last reason why Public transportation is AWESOME? You. walk. everywhere. I am determined this is the secret behind the health of the people here. Obesity is a non-issue compared to the US, and I promise, it is not because of what they eat.
Okay, So I thought it was only fair since I just spent the last bit talking about how awesome Spain is, that I should also give my honest opinion about a couple things I feel like they don’t have down. It’s only fair! Disclaimer AGAIN.. you don’t like what I have to say? Great. Each to his own. Again, this is an OPINION piece.
5 ways Spain is NOT doing it right
I love my ice. And it seems to be more scarce than anything I’ve come across in a restaurant or anywhere else. Order a glass of water? Forget about ice coming with it. On a hot summer day, all I want is ice in my drink! I finally found Ice cube trays in a Chino store. I’m now happily drinking my water extra cold at home. Dreaming of a drink from this place right about now:
4. Tuna fish… EVERYWHERE
I like tuna. But seriously? Spain has brought this to a whole new level. Tuna in salads, sandwiches, even PIZZAS. They even have an entire aisle JUST for tuna in the grocery store. I can’t even imagine what someone who abhors tuna would think!
To get a laugh and understand the struggle, check Danny Menter’s blog about the night Spain ruined pizza.
Okay this is the one luxury that I am having the hardest time getting over. I hate doing laundry. HATE IT. and I feel like not having a dryer prolongs the process. Don’t get me wrong, it is pretty awesome that something that seems so necessary in your life is completely not, but I’m a very impatient person.. If I forget to wash my favorite pair of jeans, I don’t want to have to wait 12 hours before I can wear them! The struggle is real.
SIDE NOTE: my clothes will probably last me all of my time Spain now that they aren’t being abused by a dryer!
Ok so this is one thing that irks me.. It appears that in parts of Europe, deodorant either is not worn, or it is a type that just doesn’t quite do the trick like the hundreds of different brands we seem to have in America. I’m guessing the second one is true. I know people must be accustomed to it, but I just can’t deal with the sweaty old man or woman at the end of the day with his or her pit up in the air stinking up the entire metro.. I may have a sensitive nose, but, just, GROSS! I was warned about this before coming though, so I showed up with 9 sticks of a variety of deodorants so I’ll stay fresh smelling year round!
1. School Pride: Extra-Curricular Activities
Ok, so maybe this is the inner athlete or sports fan coming out of me, but WHAT THE HECK! I grew up where sports was a number one priority. Here, besides the religion of professional soccer (fútbol), sports seem to be non-existent. Yes, they have places for the kids to play their sports of choice, but where are the school teams? Where are the friday and saturday night, get dressed up in your school’s colors and go watch them play? Where are the college sporting events? WHERE IS THE SCHOOL PRIDE?? WHERE ARE THE SCHOOL RIVALRIES?? I’m trying to imagine all of my schools minus the affiliated sports, and trying to decide at what point would I ever deck out in purple and gold if it wasn’t affiliated with one of the greatest sports colleges in the country. Or wearing a basketball uniform with my high school’s name across the front. Or go to our brother school’s football, basketball, and baseball (American!) games decked out in blue and gold! This is one thing I don’t think I can ever understand. I talk with the PE teachers about this all the time, and you can imagine how much they desperately wish they were coaches in an American school.
Oh, and just because I’m excited about the game tomorrow, here is the trailer for the game.. GEAUX TIGERS!!!
So, that’s it. That’s my top 10 and bottom 5 of Spain so far. There’s a reason I could only come up with 5 things about Spain that I wasn’t wild about. This place’s good heartily outweighs any bad that may come from it. Now if only I could get that Sonic slush…
Can you think of any other ways Spain is “doing it right”? Ways they are not?